Freedom and Compulsion

There was something of a brannigan on the Facebooks the other day because of comments around a link to this video on Jenn Casey’s wall:

Jenn posted the link and started the discussion with this comment:

I’m recommending this mainly for Dr. Sicherer’s comments about reasonable allergy precautions. I also don’t see the need for this mouth-rinsing policy at this school (and no idea who came up with it–school? doc? parents?). Even so–the way these protesting parents are behaving is RIDICULOUS and inexcusable.

If you can see her wall, you can see some of the comments. Unfortunately, one person joined the discussion who dissented from the popular, Jenn’s view and, I am also sorry to say, he has deleted his comments, so I cannot claim to be presenting his view accurately herein. The dispute even bled over to Diana’s wall, but the comments there have been deleted as well.

Diana points out in that thread that the person who made those remarks has been, by all accounts, a decent fellow.

My hope is to address what I think is his legitimate even if wrong concern around this issue.

If I recall correctly, he really doesn’t have any desire to kill children with peanut allergies and he doesn’t find it objectionable to be asked by the school to keep his deadly-to-them substances at home. What he finds problematic is the compulsory nature of the instruction. The government-run school doesn’t say, “It would be cool if you could refrain from sending stuff to school with your children that might kill some of the other children. kthx.” The government-run school says, “You absolutely may not, under penalty of something, allow your children to bring things to school with your children that might kill other people’s kids.”

Non-Objectivists probably do not understand what the problem is here because it’s a fairly universally held sentiment that dead children are a VERY BAD THING. So, if we have to tie people to the bumpers of their own cars to keep them from killing babies, we should probably look to see if has a deal on rope.

But the Objectivist view of government is such that it is dedicated solely and exclusively to the task of protecting individual rights.

So, the person who was objecting to the rules was saying something like, “If the government is to set about protecting individual rights, how can we possibly argue that the government is doing that when it is forbidding parents from feeding their children the food they deem suitable?” It certainly does not help this discussion that we’re talking about public schools, which is a context that simply would not exist in a society where the government is limited to the protection of individual rights.

If you know for a fact that someone could die or even be hurt if you expose them to peanuts, it is a violation of their rights to expose them to peanuts. It’s really as simple as that.

Some parents argue that it is the responsibility of those who have such allergies to ensure that they aren’t exposed to peanuts, but that’s like saying it’s my responsibility to dodge the bullets that you’re firing wildly into the crowd of which I am a part.

Let’s remember: the situation isn’t one in which school administrators are simply guessing that someone might have a severe allergy to peanuts. They know for a fact they have students with this condition and they have to protect them. And it is not optional for you at all to bring peanuts to where these students might come into contact with them and maybe die. Not even a little bit.

This isn’t tyranny or a violation of your rights. This is a legitimate constraint on your actions to prevent you (or your kids) from killing other people’s kids because that would be a violation of their rights.


  1. Jenn Casey March 27, 2011 9:49 am

    Thanks! You made this point in a very clear way. I was pretty busy being shocked and so wasn’t able to put forth this argument in a calm sort of way on the thread itself. :/ Maybe I’ll do better next time.

  2. Michael Poon April 9, 2011 1:11 am

    I object. Your invoking of intuition in favor of your rights violation account rests on an equivocation on exposure.

    “If you know for a fact that someone could die or even be hurt if you expose them to peanuts, it is a violation of their rights to expose them to peanuts. It’s really as simple as that.”

    First exposure: Physical touching. Like, what would kill them. Like stuffing it down their throats.
    Second exposure: Possibility that it can somehow get to them.

    So yes, if you know that someone could die if you expose (stuff down throats) them to peanuts, it would be a violation of their rights to expose (stuff down throats) the to peanuts.

    However, to say that if you know someone could die if you somehow got the stuff to them, it would be a violation of their rights to create a possibility that it may somehow get to them is not at all as sure, and certainly requires extensive justification.

    • Trey Givens April 9, 2011 12:04 pm

      No, the second use of the word is the same as the first. But the argument you’re pointing out is not lost. Sending your child into a school with a substance deadly to at least one of the other students doesn’t mean that they are certainly going to kill that one other student with their callous and reckless disregard for their condition.

      Similarly, just because I fire a gun wildly into a crowd doesn’t guarantee that I will hit someone. But need I hit anyone to violate the rights of all members of the crowd? I think not. What if all but one of them is wearing armor that protects them from gunfire and I know it? That still doesn’t materially change the fact that I’d be committing attempted murder.

      • Michael Poon April 20, 2011 2:43 am

        I do not believe that is an accurate analogy. Firing a gun wildly into a crowd would be more like walking into the classroom and spraying peanut butter everywhere. Which you are not doing, of course.

        A gun analogy is good though. Here is one that I believe is much more accurate: I send my child to school with a gun (and let’s assume my child is not about to yank it out and shoot people with it). My child shares it with another child. This other child points it at himself and shoots himself.

        The relevant points here are:
        1. The child knew guns are dangerous, presumably, just as the analogous child knew food could be dangerous to him.
        2. The child knew the specific danger was in getting shot (ie, having someone squeeze the trigger while the gun was loaded and pointed at him), just as the analogous child knew the specific danger was eating food that contained peanuts (“loaded”).
        3. If the child does not think to check if the gun is loaded (food has peanut butter), and does not think to ask (or does ask and receives an inconclusive answer… and decides to squeeze the trigger anyway), I surely have not violated his right to life.

        Given this, in the temporally prior situation, where none of this is even happening, when I just give my child the loaded gun/peanut butter sandwich, it is not possible that a rights violation occurs.

        • Trey Givens April 20, 2011 7:39 am

          Actually, for the child with a severe peanut allergy it is very much like that. Peanut dust on the skin or clothes of your child could kill that other child. It does not require them sharing food.

          If you wanted to continue the gun allergy your way, you’d have to include a condition whereby the gun randomly fires from time to time without anyone intending to fire it.

          Again, sending your child to school with peanut products in full knowledge of the fact that there is another child who could die from contact with those products is a deliberate act of putting that other child in danger.

          • Michael Poon April 20, 2011 8:41 pm

            If we’re talking about the inhalation of peanut dust, I’ve never heard of that being an issue. Can you provide sources citing that as a risk?

            Also, why on earth would my child have peanut dust on him in anything close to significant amounts if I’m sending him to school with a PBJ? You’ve changed the case from sending him to school with a peanut-related food to a “he has peanut dust on him case,” which are, of course, completely different.

          • Trey Givens April 20, 2011 8:48 pm


            It’s not just dust, but dust is a possibility. Let’s say your child gets peanut butter on their hands whilst eating that sandwich you packed. And then let’s say they play patty-cakes or whatever. BOOM! DEAD CHILDREN EVERYWHERE.

            I’m not moving the goalposts on you. I’m pointing out that this is a serious problem that needs to be taken seriously. And if someone tells you they could die, you are wrong to place them at this very real risk.


          • Michael Poon April 20, 2011 9:13 pm

            One of your links flatly says: “Although a small amount of peanut protein can set off a severe reaction, it is rare that people get an allergic reaction just from breathing in small particles of nuts or peanuts. Most foods with peanuts in them don’t allow enough of the protein to escape into the air to cause a reaction. And just the smell of foods containing peanuts won’t produce a reaction because the scent does not contain the protein.”

            Furthermore, an article from Johns Hopkins published in a peer-reviewed journal: “Airborne Ara h 1 was undetectable in simulated real-life situations when participants consumed peanut butter, shelled peanuts, and unshelled peanuts.” (Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology) (

            Regarding secondary contact, i.e., patty-cakes (or whatever):
            “Harvard pediatrician Dr. Michael C. Young notes in his book The Peanut Allergy Answer Book that while such secondary contact [that is, external contact] might pose a risk to an allergic individual, the occurrence of a reaction is rare and limited to minor symptoms.”

            I agree with your sentiment that this is a serious problem, but I believe that your assertion that sending your child to school with a PBJ in such a scenario constitutes a violation of the right to life is too strong a claim for this case.

            If someone tells me they could die due to exposure to peanuts, I would be wrong to expose them to peanuts. That is it. Sending my child to school with a PBJ does not qualify.

            It risks exposing them to peanuts only insofar as there is the possibility of:
            1. the child eating it himself without checking as per the gun analogy.
            2. accidental exposure, as in the patty-cakes example.

            To prevent 2, I might be morally required to inform my child of the presence of this allergic child and to instruct him to wash his hands after eating/before playing. However, that is where my responsibility ends.

            If my child ignores my instruction, plays patty-cakes with the allergic child, who then proceeds to eat something without washing his hands (or stuffs his hands in his mouth), then the fault lies either with my child or with the allergic child. Certainly, >I< have not violated the right to life of the allergic child.

            To argue that by sending my child to school with a PBJ exposes the allergic child to peanuts or constitutes a very real risk of such exposure is only true insofar as you conceive of children as automatons, certain to act a specific way, without choice or moral responsibility.

          • Trey Givens April 20, 2011 9:36 pm

            Children are not automatons, nor are they fully capacitated adults. And as their guardian, you do have significant responsibility for them and their actions. We might quibble over how your responsibilities change as the children age and mature, but the fact and principles remain the same.

            If you knowingly choose to send your child with a substance deadly to another child into an environment in which they share, you have a moral responsibility for exposing the other child to those risks. It simply isn’t within your ability to control or even assess how much risk you’re introducing into the scenario as you’re slathering peanut butter onto your child’s sandwich or packing peanuts into their snack bag.

            The fact is that “small” is a statement of relative quantity/risk and if you tell me that your child can die from exposure to peanuts and I still send my child to school with your child with peanuts, I am accepting responsibility for what comes of it. Yes, your child might not die on the first day — or at all. But I would still be knowingly threatening the life of your child. That is immoral.

            This is why we don’t allow children to drive, own guns, drink, play in the street, and do a host of other activities until they are adults. This is why we hold parents accountable for their actions instead.


          • Michael Poon April 20, 2011 10:37 pm

            As per Rand’s Man’s Rights,
            There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self- sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action-which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life.
            […]The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

            Unless you wish to redefine right, I have not violated the child’s right to life, because I have not coerced him. I have not determined his action for him or imposed force upon him.

            You say he is not a rational being. If that is so, then, as per the above, he does not have rights.

            You must choose between giving children moral responsibilities or taking away their right to life, for one entails the other. If, by introducing the sandwich, I have initiated force against him, then the child is an automaton, is not a rational being, and is not privy to rights. If he is not these things and is, indeed, privy to rights, then I have not determined the child’s actions, and I have not violated his right to life.

            If your purpose above is to claim a gradient problem in that the child is “partially rational” or has “partially developed rationality,” I still am not violating any right. To say that I am violating his right to life is a strong, absolute claim, which must follow the absolute fact that I visited force upon the child, which must follow the absolute fact that children have choice and moral responsibility. If you are going to claim a gradient exists, then you are not permitted to assert strong statements such as, “You violated his right to life.” At most, you are entitled to a weak claim to personal opprobrium.

          • Trey Givens April 20, 2011 11:28 pm

            Now you’re getting into the question of children’s rights.

            If you regard every individual as utterly cut off from all others, then you cannot argue that children have rights and, according to Objectivist ethics, you would not be doing anything inherently immoral to simply set them on fire if they displease you.

            Fortunately, it has be successfully argued that children do, in fact, have rights based on the presumption of their future state as rational animals. But until that time the guardians accept responsible for them as pre-rational animals.

            This is why I say that if I send my child into a place with your child with a substance that could harm your child, I am responsible for any ensuing violation of your child’s rights.


          • Michael Poon April 20, 2011 11:58 pm

            I haven’t seen this argument, but, prima facie, it seems untenable and potentially dangerous to assert the existence of rights based on potential (a la fetuses).

            I agree that children have rights. However, that does not seem extricable from their moral responsibility. There is certainly no reason to think that the moral responsibility lies with the guardian.

            You say that “if I send my child into a place with your child with a substance that could harm your child, I am responsible for any ensuing violation of your child’s rights.” Suppose you send your child to school with a pencil and he stabs another child in the face with it. That certainly is not your moral responsibility. And what of children without guardians? Do they possess rights, yet lack a locus of moral responsibility?

            It seems entirely too problematic to separate the locus of moral responsibility from the locus of rights, and, even more so, to rely on the existence of a guardian for there to be a locus of moral responsibility at all.

            Without having seen this argument, I cannot accept that it is a successful one that deals with such problems satisfactorily.

          • Trey Givens April 21, 2011 12:12 am

            “There is certainly no reason to think that the moral responsibility lies with the guardian.” Except that children are real, real stoopit. They do all kinds of crazy things. But they are still human beings.

            I actually do think that if my child stabs another child in the face I bear some moral responsibility, perhaps not all, but a lot depends on context. I can see some circumstances where a child’s actions outstrips their guardian’s rationally defensible responsibility for them. I am loathe to point this out, but I believe Dr. Peikoff has discussed this on his podcasts at some point.

            A quick skim of topics revealed these posts:

            This makes me wonder if we should ask Leonard Peikoff about this question. Unfortunately, I am skeptical that he would do the proper amount of research into the particular topic of allergies to offer us any concrete guidance on this particular topic.


          • Michael Poon April 21, 2011 12:10 am

            Oh! I think you are misunderstanding my earlier statements. My earlier arguments were angling more for the fact that children have rights and that they therefore have moral responsibility. Because of this, if my child or the allergic child, through negligence or some other cause, kills the allergic child via the peanut food, then it is the moral responsibility of the respective child, and not I.

          • Trey Givens April 21, 2011 12:13 am

            No, I think we’re on the same page here. I’m arguing that you, as the guardian, do also bear some moral responsibility here. Politically, you may also bear some burden.


          • Michael Poon April 21, 2011 12:30 am

            I will take a look at those links soon. However, I want to first point out that, again, you have specified a gradient problem in that you, as the guardian, are responsible for SOME of the blame. By your light, I would also be responsible for some (not all) of the death of the allergic child. As per an above post, gradient problems, especially in fuzzier problems like this, do not allow for absolute, strong moral statements, i.e., regarding rights violations. (Which is why, really, I prefer to flatten out gradient problems.)

          • Trey Givens April 21, 2011 12:37 am

            I don’t really understand your distinction between strong and weak moral statements here.

            If a child dies as a result of your actions — even though indirect by “arming” your own child with substances that hurt the victim — it is difficult for me to see how you could excuse yourself from any culpability, especially in the moral realm, for those outcomes.

            It would be different in my mind if the outcomes were less clear, immediate, or direct.

            As things stand, the claims seem to me to be between a rights violation in sending a child to school with peanuts and a rights violation in sending a child to school without peanuts. The latter seems to be a very, very mild inconvenience against the former which defines clear risks and why it is reasonable to ask others to not exacerbate them with their PBJ sammiches and whatnot.


          • Michael Poon April 21, 2011 1:13 am

            The outcomes ARE less clear, immediate, and direct, just because your child has limited rationality. Thus, the relevant facts of the case are not just:
            1. You pack a PBJ for your child and send him to school.
            2. The allergic child comes into contact with the PBJ and dies.

            You say, “If a child dies as a result of your actions — even though indirect by “arming” your own child with substances that hurt the victim — it is difficult for me to see how you could excuse yourself from any culpability.” However, moral responsibility for indirect harming seems tentative at best. An analogous situation would be lending your brother your gun, which he then uses to hold up a store. I don’t think this is a strong point.

            The strength of the statement I am referring to is essentially the severity of the censure you receive from moral principles for your action. Thus, to say, “You have violated that child’s right to life” is a very strong statement, with extreme moral consequences. Such statements can only be made when the criteria for its content are known to have been met in a very clear manner. A weak statement might be, “Your action was wrong, but blameless” or “You have indirectly harmed him, but have not violated his right to life.” A weak statement might also be, “Your action was not benevolent, but it also was not immoral.” These are examples off the top of my head and not necessarily related to the problem at hand.

          • Trey Givens April 21, 2011 7:13 am

            The relevant facts of the case for you sending your child to school with PBJ where you know one of their classmates could die from it, though, are just that plus one more that I’ll state in a minute. Certainly, children can and will lots of nutty things, things adults would not consider. And you can’t possibly plan for all of that, but you take reasonable steps to keep them from harm. And when you send them out to be with other children, reasonable steps are taken to keep them from harming other children as well.

            For example, if your child is sick with a contagious disease, you keep them home. I remember I had scarlet fever when I was a child and there was a period where I felt fine, but I wasn’t permitted to go out and play because I was still contagious and my disease could have infected the other children.

            In the situation we’re considering the relevant facts are:
            1) There is a child with a bad peanut allergy at school.
            2) You KNOW about this child’s allergy
            3) You send your child to school with peanut butter anyway

            My argument isn’t that you should withhold peanuts from your children in all situations on the off chance that one of their classmates is allergic. But if your child comes home with a note from the teacher that says, “Your child’s classmate has a severe peanut allergy, please do not pack peanut products in your child’s lunch,” you are then in a position where you know your failure to comply with that request puts that other child into harm’s way.

            I would argue that knowingly putting other people in such situations is not only immoral, but criminal. (Although I can see the argument that criminal proceedings would only come out of those cases where your action actually does result in serious harm, but that gets into the realm of the philosophy of law.)

            So, that gets back to me not understanding strong vs. weak moral statements. I don’t even really understand the idea of a “moral consequence.” Immoral action is immoral. That’s it. The gradation of how reprehensible the action is depends on the values at play. Throwing away money and throwing away your life are both immoral, but one is worse than the other, not because of the throwing away part, but because of what you’re throwing away.

            When those values involve other people, that’s when political/legal philosophy comes up and the severity of the legal action in a situation isn’t generally the act itself but the harm that act inflicts on others. For example, stealing a pen from the desk at the bank is quite different in the eyes of the law than stealing big bags of money with dollar signs written on them from the bank — and rightfully so.

            In our scenario, the argument I’m making is that it is immoral to knowingly put the allergic child in harm’s way. If the (I’m going to assume a school in a society that properly values individual rights) school finds you doing this, they would be justified in expelling your child. If your actions actually did cause the other child harm, I would argue that the parents of that child would be justified in bringing charges against you.

            The values at play in our scenarios are the convenience for you to pack PBJ for your child’s lunch against the other child’s physical well-being and even their life.


  3. Sam Kennedy April 20, 2011 10:21 pm

    Most all of this seems to be based on the idea that cross-contamination, casual contact, or second-hand exposure to food allergens can be fatal. I’m talking about anything other than when a child puts the allergen into his mouth and ingests it. Since my son has a severe milk allergy (the most deadly kind of food allergy) along with asthma (nearly all deaths due to food allergy happen to people with asthma), I have taken quite an interest in this topic for some time.

    I have never found any scientific or medical opinion that it’s possible to ever die due to cross-contamination, or any report in medical literature or news reports of this happening, ever, at all, even once, to anyone.

    If someone more in-the-know about food allergies can point me to a case of a child ever dying due to cross-contamination, I’d gladly admit I am wrong and be thankful for the information.

    • Trey Givens April 20, 2011 11:23 pm

      I’ve chosen death in this discussion as the most extreme possible — even if not probable — outcome just to make it clear that putting children in the path of harm is wrong. Even subjecting children to hives and other symptoms of contact dermatitis is wrong.

      I think what you’re referring to is actually called “secondary exposure” and not “cross-contamination.” Cross-contamination would refer to the contamination of non-allergenic substances with allergic substances by contact with common surfaces, tools, etc. Searching for accidental ingestion of allergens reveals lots of ready examples of deaths by cross-contamination. Secondary exposure is a bit more difficult. The closest reputable accounts suggest that more than just skin contact is needed, like via cuts or other direct contact with sensitive orifices.

      I will grant that it is unlikely, but likelihood, as mentioned, is not something you can assess as a parent when it comes to putting your child into the same shared context as other children. And you bear the responsibility of what happens when it comes to introducing substances that could harm a subset of those children into that context.

      • Sam Kennedy April 20, 2011 11:31 pm

        You’re right about my mix-up of terminology. I’d still be interested to find any one example of anyone, particularly a child, dying due to secondary exposure.. anywhere, ever, at all.

        • Trey Givens April 20, 2011 11:42 pm

          All I’ve ever seen are extraordinary cases like where the exposure comes through cuts or kisses or other such contact.

          PS. Can I just say, I effing LOVE this discussion? If some lunatic were in here calling names and saying mean things and getting all emotional, I would shut this down in a half a second.

          But here you are and Michael bringing up very valid, very calm, very rational disagreements on this point. You guys have taken care to point out your objections like normal, rational humans. Regardless of how we might individually feel about it, care is being taken to present our views in lucid, dispassionate terms.

          This is debate among rational humans. I very, very approve.

          • Trey Givens April 20, 2011 11:43 pm

            BTW, I have seen RUMORS of death by secondary exposure, but I haven’t been able to find substantiation for those claims.

            THAT I do NOT approve as part of this discussion.


          • Michael Poon April 20, 2011 11:47 pm

            I concur. I would like this if I were on Facebook. Alas.

          • Trey Givens April 20, 2011 11:55 pm

            Ugh. Facebook is unworthy. The filth. You guys are rocking this.


          • Sam Kennedy April 20, 2011 11:50 pm
        • Jenn Casey April 21, 2011 8:12 am

          Hey Sam,

          RE: secondary exposure death:

          I’m unclear how the child ingested the peanut.

          We’ve discussed this before–death is rare, but a possibility. A stronger probability in my son’s case is a trip to the hospital and an unpleasant experience. I think that’s worthy of avoidance in and of itself.

          You also remarked: “I’d like to be able to advocate for accommodation of my child without the annoyance of being lumped in with the hysterical crowd that dramatically emphasizes false things, such as the idea that food allergies are life-threatening or that secondary exposure is dangerous. I think a case can be made in a sane, rational way for accommodation based on science and reality, without resorting to silly claims that the life of a child is at stake.”

          I’m confused by this. Are you saying that the idea that food allergies are life-threatening is false? Deaths are rare, but real. Are you saying that secondary exposure is not dangerous? Even if it doesn’t result in death, for many, there’s a strong chance that they’ll have to have a big (and expensive and maybe even dramatic) kind of medical intervention.

          I guess I’m one of “those” parents then. I do take a reasonable rational science-based view of my son’s particular risk profile here. I do think his life is at risk. It is a small but real risk.

          We do lots of things to prevent his exposure, not just because of this risk, or the greater risk that he’d have a medical intervention, but because there’s some evidence (at least in regard to peanut) to suggest that minimizing exposures to the allergen will improve his chances for outgrowing the allergen (peanut is among the least outgrown–only 20% will grow out of it). Milk allergy is very deadly, as you rightly point out, but peanut allergens are still responsible for the majority of food allergy-related deaths.

          I think there is probably nothing I can say to convince you–we’ve been discussing this issue on other threads, for those not in the know here. I’ve provided links and studies that show what I think you doubt. So we’ll have to disagree on this issue.

          But I am curious to know if you consider me one of these hysterical parents because I do say my kid’s life is at risk.

          • Sam Kennedy May 1, 2011 12:31 pm


            Sorry it took me a while to respond, I didn’t notice your reply at first.

            I regret that you would say something like “there is probably nothing I can say to convince you”. That seems like no less than saying you think I’m incapable of thinking properly. Instead of talking about allergies, we would be talking about what each other believes and why and our motivations for doing so. I don’t think such talk is in the best interest of civil and friendly conversations on the Internet about highly charged matters such as these, and I’d rather just stick to the facts. Furthermore, I think it’s unfair since in my every comment on this matter I’ve requested to be shown some evidence for the allergy activist claims.

            You mentioned a few times in your reply that you have plenty of reasons to avoid exposure to allergens aside from what I was talking about. As I’ve said in at least two Facebook threads on this topic, I don’t disagree and I feel the same way regarding my child.

            Regarding a few key claims commonly made by food allergy activists, I am a skeptic, which means I say, “show me”. We have talked about this on some threads on Facebook but I don’t think you’ve sent me any links that show what I’m referring to. I have not seen any *reliable source* that confirms that it is possible for anaphylactic shock, death, or injury to result from secondary contact to food allergens. I have never seen any account in a *reliable source* that it has ever even happened. (I do not consider activist blogs to be reliable sources.) So that’s all I want: A news article about the airplane that had to make an emergency landing because someone had an anaphylactic reaction when people on board opened their in-flight snacks. Or a peer-reviewed scientific study that cited actual instances of a child dying after playing patty-cakes with someone who just ate a PB&J sandwich. Or anything (reliable sources!) that shows that any of these food allergy scenarios are really possible or have actually ever happened (even once).


      • Sam Kennedy April 20, 2011 11:46 pm

        I’d like to be able to advocate for accommodation of my child without the annoyance of being lumped in with the hysterical crowd that dramatically emphasizes false things, such as the idea that food allergies are life-threatening or that secondary exposure is dangerous. I think a case can be made in a sane, rational way for accommodation based on science and reality, without resorting to silly claims that the life of a child is at stake.

        • Trey Givens April 21, 2011 12:00 am

          Well, if I were to discuss this with a child of my own in question, I would likely not adopt such an extreme view. It sounds paradoxical, but I think with my own child being in the situation I would be inclined to adopt their particular situation as the most extreme reasonable context under which to operate.

          I think the reasonable position to adopt here is that the relatively minor inconvenient of not packing PBJ is preferable to letting one’s child’s friends suffer through hives or whatever. But that preference, I do contend, is moral and the opposite is immoral. And that’s what we’re trying to suss out here.

          • Sam Kennedy April 21, 2011 12:11 am

            When I was still living in Tennessee and was a single dad and it was necessary for him to go to daycare. On many occasions I’d arrive to find him suffering from allergic reactions to snacks from older kids that inevitably found their way out of a backpack at the end of the day. Many of these snacks are coated with seasoning powder which sticks to everything. He’d get it in his eyes, and his face would become red and puffy and his eyes would become really irritated and swollen. No, I never thought he was going to die because of this, but oh! how I hated to see him suffer because of it.

            So, I’d always want to make sure he’s in a situation where his condition is accommodated. And I would definitely respect the others who would similarly suffer from certain substances. It’s just the decent thing to do.

            But, I don’t think it would be responsible or ethically okay for me to claim it was because he could DIE due too a SEVERE LIFE-THREATENING THING which could KILL HIM!


          • Trey Givens April 21, 2011 12:18 am

            But you really could. My understanding of allergies is likely very far below your own on this, but I am under the impression that one reaction is not the same as another. And a slight reaction this time means nothing for the next exposure. If he’s getting it in his eyes and other places like that, the risk is amplified.

            So, for you with your son at daycare, I actually think it would be perfectly polite and reasonable to ask that no one wipe these substances on your son or put them in his belongings.

            Sure, maybe you don’t play the “MY SON MIGHT DIE” card right away. But maybe you could play the “I’m really sick of pumping my toddler full of steroids to fight off the hives that you’ve ignorantly induced in him” card. That strikes me as a reasonable request.


  4. Michael Poon April 20, 2011 10:43 pm

    Correction to last sentence, second to last paragraph: If he is not these things and is, indeed, privy to rights, then children generally carry moral responsibility, and so it would be my child who violates the allergic child’s rights (if my child is careless enough), and not I.

    • Trey Givens April 20, 2011 11:49 pm

      I don’t agree with this. As guardian of a child, you do bear the responsibility of their actions. If a child is playing ball in the yard and breaks a window, you are responsible for remuneration for damages, not the child. You might decide to make the child work off the debt by some terms you negotiate with the child, but those aren’t legally-defensible terms.

      It’s a challenging concept and I can’t claim to have fully integrated it, but I do not accept the premise that children have no rights nor do I accept the premise that parents accept boundless responsibility.

    • Sam Kennedy April 21, 2011 12:18 am

      I think that as a parent I hold the rights and responsibilities of my children in trust for them until they become an adult and take them on as their own. I can delegate those rights and responsibilities to my children however I’d like, but as far as the rest of society is concerned, it’s ultimately all held by me, the parent. I can’t imagine I’d want to live in a society that worked any other way.

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